I think Gene Roddenberry gave humanity too much credit. While there are amazing people doing incredible things like working together to stop the spread of the Sahara desert by planting a forest, or creating bus benches that transform into rain shelters for the homeless, there are an awful lot of people who create a hostile environment for their fellow Earthlings.
Recently, a New York judge ruled in favor of an Anti-Islamic group that wanted to post the following on the sides of New York buses:
“Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” It also depicted a person with their face covered and claimed that the quote was from Hamas MTV, ending with “That’s his jihad. What’s yours?”
Of course, everyone is up in arms over how this could incite violence against Jews (despite the fact that these ads have run in San Francisco and Chicago without any adverse effect), but that’s not really what’s going on — it’s a directed attack on Arabs and Muslims, further emphasizing popular opinion that Muslims are terrorists, when, in fact, 94% of terrorist attacks are carried out by Non-Muslims.
There are people in every religion (and outside of religion) that grow fanatical and decide to leave a mark on humanity in the form of a great tragedy. This doesn’t mean that religion itself is violent — experts seem to indicate it is merely one incidental factor — it just means that people will use whatever they have to in order to justify their choices.
The quite honestly shocking decision to allow these ads says a lot about how far we have to go in order to have the kind of society Gene Roddenberry dreamed about. What we believe comes out in our stories, and there aren’t a lot of stories with great Muslim or Arab characters. Instead, they’re often depicted as two-dimensional villains, paraded out from the propaganda mill just like America used to do with the Japanese (which George Takei talks about in a heartbreaking interview).
Can you recall one positive portrayal of a Muslim or even Arab character on TV? There are characters like Abed Nadir, from Community (who is not Muslim, but of Arab descent), Sayid Jarrah from Lost, and Arastoo Vaziri from Bones, but this meager offering is not enough.
Star Trek’s DS9 reboot and the introduction of Dr. Julian Bashir, and the inclusion of Pakistani-born actor Faran Tahir as Captain Robau in 2009’s Star Trek film continue Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, but we need to do more. We need to do better.
Our Muslim neighbors don’t need to be painted as violent terrorists. They aren’t. They are living, breathing, valuable human beings and should be protected from the bigotry that so often ends with a loss of life. It is time we acknowledged that we have bought into a smear campaign and doesn’t have to be this way.
We need more diversity, including realistic and respectful portrayals of individuals who practice religion, regardless of name. We need to educate ourselves and others in order to combat the propaganda being fed to us.
Take a look back at our history. It’s a long list of people we’ve maligned because we’ve refused to change our perspective, or to listen, or create a positive first contact experience.
Gene Roddenberry hoped that we were better. Let’s prove him right.
Image Credits: Charles Mostoller, RODDENBERRY ENTERTAINMENT